Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Reviewed by Angel Cortes, Posted on 2014-06-27


The world's most beloved simian family returns in another adventure, this time on the Wii U. Nintendo continues Donkey Kong Country's revival with Tropical Freeze, introducing new enemies and reintroducing old favorites. Does this new adventure have what it takes to continue Kong legacy or has this banana gone soft? Nintendo's attempt at establishing a new golden era for the Donkey Kong Country franchise was met with critical acclaim in 2010 with Donkey Kong Country Returns; and sold millions of copies. Four years later and in a new console generation, Nintendo follows up Returns with Tropical Freeze. In this adventure, the Kongs are ejected from their home by an invading navy of Viking penguins that bring an icy winter to the tropical islands. The story sets up Donkey Kong in a quest to reclaim his home.

This time around you have more Kong family members coming to your aid. In addition to Donkey Kong, there is also Diddy Kong from the previous Donkey Kong Country games, Dixie Kong introduced in DKC 2, and Cranky Kong the original Kong. Each Kong has specific traits and special abilities. Donkey Kong is a big hulking gorilla that can pound the ground. Diddy Kong is a nimble monkey with a jetpack that propels him farther in jumps. Dixie Kong is a young gorilla who can twirl her hair to propel her jumps higher and slow her descent. Cranky Kong is an elderly gorilla who can bounce on his walking cane like a pogo stick to reach greater heights. The new character additions really make this game feel more like the classic Donkey Kong Country games on the Super Nintendo. I only wish there were more of the mascots from those older games.

The gameplay in Tropical Freeze has not changed much, it's still very much a precision and timing based side-scrolling platformer. It can be pretty challenging at times and mixing up your sidekicks can help you reach an otherwise inaccessible portion of a level. Playing with a friend on the same couch can be fun but you may often find each other at separate ends of the screen or someone being left behind. Tropical Freeze was definitely not designed for co-op in mind since there aren't any instances necessitating a second players input but having a friend around doesn't really hinder progress or affect the gameplay negatively. A lot of Donkey Kong gameplay staples return to Tropical Freeze. There are numerous hidden bonus mini-games throughout all the levels, some much harder to spot than others. You still collect the letters of KONG and puzzle pieces. Rambi the rhino is back as a mountable aid though other mascots are still absent. Squacks the parrot returns to help you discover those hard to find mini-games. Funky Kong returns as the keeper of Funky's Fly 'n' Buy shop where you can exchange banana coins for items like balloons, sidekick barrels, hearts, and even Squacks.

There are very few points for criticism found in Tropical Freeze honestly. It doesn't run at 1080p unfortunately but it does appear to run at sixty frames per second, so the action is always buttery smooth. Despite the standard HD resolution, there aren't any noticeable jaggies to be found nor does the image feel blurry or soft on my 1080p display. The gamepad's screen isn't utilized in Tropical Freeze outside of replicating the main display. You wouldn't want to glance down at a second screen at any time during a Donkey Kong Country game anyway. One bit of unfortunate design is the number of prompts you must go through to start your game upon initially loading up Tropical Freeze. First you must select whether you are viewing on the gamepad or on a TV screen, then you select the number of players, then you select your controller input type (gamepad, Wiimote, etc.), then you confirm the number of players, and then you get a screen prompt reminding you of the controls. All this leads to a loading screen that can feel like a bit of a drag.

The control scheme on the gamepad feels less than optimal. Having become very familiar with the previous installment of Donkey Kong Country, I became accustomed at shaking my Wiimote at the end of every level attain more hits on the final barrel. Shaking the gamepad does nothing. Gone is Donkey Kong's ability to blow on a dandelion or pinwheel or blow out a fire. Swinging from vines in this game feels like an exercise in finger acrobatics when you're using the shoulder buttons on the gamepad. Honestly, I think the gamepad is just too damn big for this game but despite my gripes with it I can still traverse most levels fairly smoothly.

Tropical Freeze offers a very creative presentation. The art style is similar to the Returns on the Wii but with the niceties afforded by an HD presentation. Tropical Freeze is bright, colorful, playful and is really quite imaginative. All of the levels are more detailed with more elaborate backgrounds, more dramatic lighting effects, and more detail throughout. The variety in levels feels greater and they now include underwater adventures like in the classics. Many levels transition from vine swinging to tree hopping and then to underwater diving effortlessly and naturally. This is how a sequel is done.

Tropical Freeze is one of the stronger titles on the Wii U, one that I've enjoyed much more than Super Mario 3D World. It feels more like a Donkey Kong Country game from the SNES than Returns did. It's more creative, more “organic”, and more fun. I tip my hat to Nintendo on this one.

Reviewed by Angel Cortes